You teased me the day before the wedding, referring to a close friend of mine as my boyfriend. We were in an open relationship, but it wasn’t until that talk that I realized you found it acceptable for me to actually date others. I shared the idea with him in a half-joke, but we soon agreed that, sure, that sounded like an apt descriptor for what we were. I was happy, having these two loves in my life and not having it be a problem. It was a bit awkward to realize the timing meant I would have two anniversaries back to back, but whatever, I was happy.
He attended the wedding, and I know now the whole situation was rather awkward for him. He would later confide in another friend that he felt pressured into the label, and that other friend eventually let that slip to me. I’ll never get that; why would you let yourself be pressured into something as big and meaningful as a relationship?
But I guess that also describes my wedding, so can I really blame him?
He sat at the same table as another friend I’ve always had a slight thing for, a person I’ve messed around with a few times in the past. At the same table was the guy you cheated on me with and his boyfriend. We joked about that being the furry table, but that wasn’t even half of it.
It’s weird how normal that all seemed to us.
I wish this sat better with me than it did. But it hurt – to love another person and feel compelled to hide them away from my family. Perhaps I could have been braver, open with them – but there was always doubt. You were so certain of this polyamory thing, and if I wanted this to be a happy marriage, I had to learn to accept it.
I really had to accept it. You made it quite clear there was no turning back. I always had to be the one to make sacrifices.
But as long as I had both of you, it seemed acceptable.
The day couldn’t have been worse. Our officiant asked us to present our own vows before being reminded we were sticking to the basics; I guess I was afraid of coming up with ways of describing why I cared for you. It was a reminder of my doubts. Could I promise you anything meaningful? At least if I stuck to someone else’s script, it felt less like a real thing.
The DJ did a catastrophic job. We spent hours working on a list of what we wanted for our big day. The woman who was supposed to MC told us the DJ would try to mix in our picks, but they’d go back to the stuff that would make people actually get up and dance if our stuff didn’t ‘work.’ She also disappeared without telling anyone as the dancing actually began, failing to actually do anything to encourage people to get out of their chairs. Your mother said she was expecting something better after attending a wedding with music provided by the same company, that she could tell the woman wasn’t really trying – but she didn’t want to give a bad review.
I was so overwhelmed by the size of it all. There were so many people there celebrating us, people I had never met and now will never see again. I had always wanted a smaller wedding, but your family demanded they invite absolutely everyone. And then we get there, and my family can’t even fill two tables. Your family is bigger, but it wasn’t that. No, most of my family has simply never accepted me. They couldn’t even make it to what was supposed to be one of the best days of my life. You tried to tell me that I was becoming part of your family, but I felt so outside of it. It never felt like the wedding was about us, but about you – about your family wanting to throw a big party, even if that’s nothing like what I wanted.
I felt so alone that night.
Like in everything else, I remember the music. “One Day Like This,” “Hoppipolla,” “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space,” uplifting songs now tainted by melancholy. We both wanted “Chicago” to play during dinner but they for whatever reason played one of the quieter versions off The Avalanche. We danced alone to “Say Something Loving” because the MC did nothing, and then they went back to songs I hated using this moment as justification. We eventually begged a table of our friends to stop playing Sushi Go Party and dance to try to get the music back on track. Since I couldn’t have a more comfortable wedding size, all I really had that night was my music. Why couldn’t that stupid company have just given the safety blanket I had asked for?
We closed the night by slowly dancing to “Into My Arms.” Did I believe the words of that song back then? Would you find it more or less sad if the answer is yes?
And then you poisoned yourself. We think it’s funny now, but I was actually rather mad with you. It was an entirely pointless act, a reminder that you do whatever you want without considering the repercussions. That moment sticks out because it summarizes our relationship quite well.
The rest of the night consisted of you managing your pain, and despite my supposed asexual leanings, I had allowed myself to work up the energy to be open that night. Instead, we hung out with some faraway friends, including the guy that you had cheated on me with. But, no, that was fine, because it’s not like I ever had the nerve to tell you how much that actually bothered me.
I could never express myself honestly to you – not because I couldn’t find the words, but because I knew you would tell me how wrong I was to feel that way.
I’m sorry you have to look back on these moments aware of the inner turmoil that drove me through the last few years of our relationship. And I’m sorry I was actually happy that day. After I asked for our divorce, you kept mentioning how you wished I realized this sooner. That I didn’t put you through this, that I didn’t allow us to get married.
I’m sorry I believed that things would get better.
I’m sorry I became so overwhelmed by how much time and money your family was putting into this wedding that I was afraid to confront the cheating that occurred after our engagement. I was ashamed of the fact my own family was giving so little, it felt like I had to be along for the ride – everyone would have hated me if I called off the wedding after so much had been poured into planning it.
I stopped having a sense of self during those years – I belonged to you. I forced a smile because you were giving so much, giving me everything but taking so much too. I so desperately wanted to be happy with what we had.
And, for whatever reason, I still loved you.
The day couldn’t have gone better. Sure, our officiant momentarily gave us a scare by asking us to deliver our personal vows when we had chosen to stick to the traditional lines, and the DJ largely failed at their job, but everything else went off without a hitch.
I admit being overwhelmed by the size of it all. Having so many people there to celebrate us, and so many being your distant relatives I had met only a handful of times if I had met them at all. I was a bit saddened to see my family only make up a table and a half – but hey. The people who cared were there, and I had a new family now.
Like in everything else, I remember the music. Waiting to walk down the aisle as Elbow’s “One Day Like This” finished, then making that walk to Sigur Ros’s “Hoppipolla.” We walked away to Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life” and had our first dance to Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.” We were both a bit annoyed when the DJ played the wrong version of “Chicago”; Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois had been one of the first things I shared with you, and we wanted it there. We danced alone to “Say Something Loving” by The xx, a song we only really requested for ourselves anyway. The night ended on “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave, a quiet song of devotion. None of these are the traditional choices, but we were never traditional people.
Of course, this isn’t the story we share. No, we hone in on the funny bits, and you actually stole the show on the drive back. For whatever reason, you decided to learn what your boutonniere tasted like. You took a small bite which no one else would have noticed if you didn’t soon complain of a tingling feeling in your mouth.
You poisoned yourself on our wedding night, because of course that would happen.
We got back to the hotel and you shoveled ice cream down your throat after learning milk would soften the sting. There was nothing particularly sexy about that night, but we had grown to accept the fact our relationship was never really about sex. At that time, we were convinced I was somewhere on the asexual spectrum. We both seemed happier to just visit with friends; due to the fact we met in college, most of our friends had moved away and it was nice to just get to see them in person for a brief moment.
I’m sorry this is never the story we’re actually going to tell. Later events shroud this in doubt, and we’re both likely to never mention it again after the wounds heal.
Because I was happy that day. There were doubts, but I stuck around because I truly believed we would figure it out. I always wanted to believe in us.
I loved you.
A few weeks back I told a funny story about passing an embarrassing membership card around the table while meeting my family at McAlister’s, which ended with me quickly tossing the card into the trash as I waited outside.
As you can likely assume from me bringing the topic back around, that last bit never happened. While again searching for a gift card, I found it still tucked inside my wallet.
It’s not that I lied to you; I was right there with you in believing this story. I remember that moment clearly, standing outside as I considered tossing the card away. But now I’ll never know the truth of this story. Did I simply consider the option so heavily that my mind blurred the actual event with what I chose not to do? Or, even worse, did I accidentally toss a more valuable card away?
This is the inherent issue of writing about the past; memories can form irrespective of the true events. The big picture is there but the little pieces can be as elusive as dreams. We never question these details, not until something pops up to contradict your past.
But if so much of us is dictated by our past, does that mean our entire identity is this fragile, malleable thing? That we could build up a part of who we are over mere possibilities?
Not only that, but our memories can change as swiftly as our moods. I could tell you the same story four times and tell you something different each time. It’s not that I’m lying – but certain truths only exist in certain mindsets. As much as we linger on the past, our memories are a present construction. The things I choose to share, those that carry weight, are simply being recalled. There’s no past without a present to make sense of it all.
Green Book is a film that immediately sparks the phrase ‘Oscar-bait,’ this concept that some films are created more for award ceremonies than critical appeal; the idea here being that the average moviegoer is more likely to check out a Best Picture nominee than a film that manages to land a high score on Metacritic. The negative quality of this label comes from the general attitude that technical elements can be ignored for more surface-level details – a narrative with ‘social significance’ and recognizable actors giving ‘meaningful’ performances. These films carry a certain air of manipulation, that they care more about what the subject matter can do for them than the other way around.
Yes, Green Book falls neatly into that category. This is a Hollywood take on the concept of an art film. The importance is on the label, the story of a working class white man driving a black musician through the Deep South in the early 1960s – and though they are wildly different people, they learn Important Life Lessons during their journey together. It’s the type of saccharine story about race that will earn nominations over more purposeful and heavy takes on the issue, such as the snubbed If Beale Street Could Talk.
But being Oscar-bait is a conceptual idea; films can rise above that label. For the story it’s choosing to tell, Green Book does fine work. As mentioned, this style of film-making puts emphasis on acting, and it’s much harder to fudge a good performance than it is to force a ‘meaningful’ narrative. Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali are stellar playing against each other, Viggo’s loudmouth Tony in perfect contrast to Ali’s deliberate quiet as Don Shirley.
What pushes this above standard Oscar-bait territory is that it actually does excel in a particular technical category; the editing is surprisingly proficient. There’s nothing boundary-pushing, just a simple emphasis on timing; this film carries a certain comedic tone, and it has that necessary rhythm between shots. Nothing lingers more than it needs to, nor does a shot fade away too quickly – this is a film that earns its two-hour-plus running time by making every moment count.
The story is nice enough, though it naturally feels a bit forced. There are two major themes running throughout, and the one beneath the surface works a whole lot better. There are too many scenes that simply establish Don Shirley’s lack of connection with other black people. One flagrant example finds him standing outside the car after it break down, a field full of black workers staring at him in his fancy suit as a white man chauffeurs him. This element of the narrative is present throughout, so why feature such a deliberate moment?
What works better is when the film hones in on the concept of self-hood. Don Shirley is portrayed as a man lost in his individuality, performing for audiences that otherwise treat him as scum. His unique place in the world puts a barrier between him and others, a lonely man compelled to present that loneliness as an affectation. Tony Vallelonga, on the other hand, is happy to fall into the ways of his community, but he always sees through whatever stereotypes he might fit to see himself as his own being. But where this creates fun moments of conflict between the two, it also carries the heavy baggage of making this a film about a white man teaching a black man to lighten up a little.
Green Book is all-in-all a fine film, one that can’t hide its intentions but carries a high enough quality to make it worthwhile. It certainly has no place in the Best Picture race, and I think the sad fact is that it could have even been a great film if it cut down on some of the surface-level elements that likely earned it that nomination. It could have been great – but it’s still pretty good, which I can say is more than I expected when I went in.
3.5 Stars Out of 5
A full eight years since the release of Attack the Block, Joe Cornish returns with his second feature film. A modernized tale of Arthurian legend, The Kid Who Would Be King is a fair but rudimentary family movie.
Though his two films target wildly different audiences, they share the common theme of youth facing off against evil forces without much outside help; one happens to feature aliens while the other has demonic knights. However, the kids here simply aren’t as compelling. Attack the Block was as much about troubled youth as it was an alien invasion, but this film is fine resting on the generic; poor parental relationships, the bullied, the bullies. The characters are largely conceptual – they go through obvious arcs and don’t perform much beyond their archetype.
Many of the plot beats feel equally forced, from the discovery of the sword to how the two bullies get tangled into the story. I couldn’t help but find those two characters out of place through most of the movie; they seem to be there just so the film can deliver a message. This is a story that wants to be about growing and learning to understand and care for others – but the characters succeed too easily.
The Kid Who Would Be King felt rushed during its first act, only to drag during its back half. Certain sequences from the beginning could have been milked for more; Alex too quickly falls into the hero role, and the film could have used more scenes with the young Merlin completely failing to hide among the student body. Simply establishing the characters more before sending them off on the quest could have done wonders.
And where it races through these promising concepts, it then slows during the rather mundane journey. So much of the film is just a group of kids travelling; by foot, by horseback, through knee-deep water. It carries the ambitions of an epic but fails to land the feeling of one; it could have really benefited from some tighter focus and a shorter length.
The film desperately wants to be whimsical, but the young actors simply aren’t able to deliver their lines to that effect. It’s easy to recognize the wit in the dialogue, but it’s rarely executed well. The one exception here is Angus Imrie, who goes completely ham while playing the out-of-touch young Merlin – he has enough energy to carry most of his scenes.
There’s something visceral about the creature design of Attack the Block; the aliens are these pitch-black masses, sometimes appearing as nothing more than floating teeth among shadows. The demonic knights here are cool enough, but not anything special. The visual design in general feels rather lackluster; though there are plenty of moments in the British countryside, it’s never shot in a particularly compelling way – the framing always feels rather utilitarian.
The Kid Who Would Be King simply doesn’t do enough. I get the sense that the creators wanted to pull back a bit, keep it simpler for a younger audience, but it goes too far. Attack the Block sold itself largely on style, but this film doesn’t capture anywhere near that charm. It doesn’t seem to be offering anything more than a simple quest.
2.5 Stars Out of 5
Nothing terrified me more than the idea of coming out to you, but my hand was forced.
My final semester of high school was one of the toughest periods of my life. I had come out to most of my close friends and trusted family, saving you and Mom for last. It went over well with practically everyone but her, and then she took it as poorly as she could. I was so distracted by these events that I let my production slide, and I soon learned I had been unceremoniously removed from That Guy with the Glasses without being informed. I tried to explain why I needed time, but they refused to give me a second chance. I broke down completely, said things I shouldn’t have in public places. I still wasn’t out in the open, so a lot of people assumed I was freaking out over the site and nothing more – but a few added up the pieces.
One of my cousins on your side saw my posts and contacted you in a panic. She also messaged me, telling me about a friend of hers who had a brother that committed suicide. The friend didn’t realize their brother was gay until after the fact, after reading some of his personal writing. His parents had rejected him, and, well – she didn’t want to see the same thing happen to me.
She didn’t out me, of course – she simply mentioned I seemed troubled. You wanted to meet, and I couldn’t really say no. You had no meaningful power over me, but I guess I saw you as a potential physical danger – but at that point, what was I afraid of losing?
I could have written it off, covered up the subject. Put all of the blame on Channel Awesome, not mention why things slipped there. But no reasonable person would believe that a comedy website would single-handedly lead me to such despair.
So I told you everything. And, well – you listened to me. You understood me, tried to find (sometimes awkward, considering your prison days) ways to relate. You mentioned it went against your beliefs, but it’s not like you never sinned.
If there was anything I needed on that specific day, it was for someone to tell me that everything was going to be okay. After all the hell I went through due to you, I would have never imagined you would be the one to help me through one of my most desperate moments.
For the first time in my life, you were there.
Your parents took me to lunch after church one day, and your father received a rather alarming phone call. You had just been arrested for violating your parole. It didn’t make sense – what could you have done in the time since we left church?
Well, that was the problem. You were at church with me. It turned out you weren’t supposed to be seeing me at all. You thought you found a loophole, that they couldn’t do much if you happened to be in the same building as me. But that day, you held the door open for me as I stepped outside, and being outside together proved you were there with me – your parole officer had been watching from the animal clinic parking lot across the street.
You’re so unbearably selfish. Why would you tell me that meeting with me there was okay? How much misplaced guilt do I have to carry for you?
After that day, I never wanted to step foot in a church again. You really have this power to corrupt everything you touch. It’s not like I had much faith at that point anyway, but you drained any possibility of more.
So now I have to live with the burden that I’m part of the reason you were sent back to prison. But no. I can’t do that any longer. You did this to yourself and you hurt me by doing so. I’m a victim, not an accomplice.
None of this is my fault.
After you got released from prison, you still weren’t allowed to see me due to the nature of your crimes. I was just fourteen, only two years older than that girl when it happened. But we came up with a solution, that we would go to the same church and at least get to see each other on Sundays. I bet Mom was happy I was starting to go to church again, even if it was for ulterior motives.
It was the same church I had gone to as a child, one we quickly left after everything happened. You were running late one day, and your parents (who offered to pick me up each week) were for whatever reason talking about praying for you in this very church back during your trial.
The thing that stuck with me is what they said about my sister, who was eight at the time. She asked if she could pray for the girl, too. They were proud of her for thinking about this girl.
Through all my traumatic memories, I never really stopped to think about her. That there was a victim at the center of this unspeakable thing. I had shut the whole situation away, only ever focusing on not thinking about it when it popped up.
I know nothing about her – her family moved away almost immediately.
My perception of this event has changed so much with time. She has gone from older than me, to the same age, and now so much younger. I don’t think I fully comprehended the horror of what had happened until becoming an adult myself, understanding the vulnerability of youth that you can’t recognize while young. Of course I’m not older than her – she would be in her mid-30s now – but she’s forever stuck as this child, a perpetual victim in my mind.
With how much this still hangs over me, I can’t begin to imagine how this has affected her. We’ll never know each other, but our childhoods became so tainted by the same person. But if she met me today, she’d have every reason to assume I’m an enemy.
After all, it’s not like you have ever admitted to your actions. And who would I be to question my own father? I think an assumption has been made that I believe you, that I could never believe you would do such a horrible thing.
In fact, I find it so painfully easy to believe, to the point that I disgust myself to think I’ve let other people talk me into trying to maintain a relationship with you simply due to our familial connection.
Every moment we spend together leaves me feeling ashamed of myself. But, hey – at least one of us is capable of feeling shame.
Being four at the time you went away, I was too young to understand what had happened. I barely have memories of you existing in the outside world. One distinct memory I do have consists of me sitting on the floor, Candyland set up in front of me as I waited for you to get home. I’m not sure if this really happened or if my mind simply filled in the gaps. Trying to remember the finer details of childhood traumas can be difficult when you’ve put so much effort into forgetting.
Another distinct memory that may or may not be real occurred while Mom was driving me home from some forgotten activity. Something must have happened for me to say I wanted to see you. I must have said it in anger considering how she responded.
“You wouldn’t want to spend time with him if you knew what he did.” Of course no one had told me. How does anyone explain to a child the monstrous thing their father had done? Even in her anger, I think she held her tongue, as if she too couldn’t accept what you had done. “He had sex with our twelve-year-old neighbor.” She eventually got to the phrase ‘statutory rape,’ another term that lightens what really happened all those years ago.
I only had a faint idea of what sex was, but I knew it was something grown men didn’t do with children. You raped a child, whatever that meant – and that fact was being weaponized against me for daring to want a father.
But that wasn’t enough. She tacked on more. If you really cared about me, you would have been picking me up from preschool instead of going home early to ‘have sex with’ that girl.
So you didn’t just do something awful completely on your own. No, if I had just done more for you to love me, you wouldn’t have ended up in prison. It was my fault for not being good enough.
Why am I never enough?